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Brand Purpose OOH Brand Strategy

Media that gives back: Why OOH is an untapped sustainability opportunity for advertisers

By Chris Dooley, Head of Social Impact



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August 23, 2023 | 11 min read

Despite the influence of sustainable advertising on consumer choices, marketers often overlook sustainability in media channel selection, says Chris Dooley (head of social impact, JCDecaux). But out-of-home advertising, particularly digital out-of-home, offers a sustainable and effective way to reach audiences while contributing to social and environmental initiatives. Here's how.

Westfield statford OOH

Kinetic’s March 2023 study, 'The importance of sustainability to consumers and brands' shows there is a huge appetite for making sustainable choices. 53% of consumers are making an effort to live more sustainably and 71% think brands have an opportunity to influence positive change.

From a marketing perspective, then, there are generally two levers being pulled. One is the consumer-facing messaging – telling consumers about your brand’s sustainability credentials and initiatives. The other is moving budget away from less sustainable media channels.

However, although over 80% of companies plan to increase their investments in sustainability, the goal is sometimes surprisingly low on marketers' agendas.

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Why aren’t marketers taking sustainability seriously in their media choices?

Research from the 2023 Sky Zero Footprint Fund found that three in five consumers are heavily influenced by sustainability adverting and that it shapes their brand choices. Their research also shows that the influence of sustainable advertising has even stronger effects on younger audiences.

Yet when it comes to picking the media channels, research from JCDecaux UK shows that sustainability is virtually last on the list for marketers when it comes to factors that influence media channel choice by brands.

JCDecaux graph of key decision making factors behind media choice
source: JCDecaux UK

What’s going on? I think partly there is a lack of knowledge about the sustainable merits of the different media channels and a feeling that sustainability is still a nice-to-have rather than a must-have when it comes to channel choice, and largely a consideration only after other boxes (such as effectiveness, efficiency and speed-to-market) have been ticked.

Taking the ESG definition of sustainability as environmental (carbon footprint), social (how your business gives back and operates within the community) and governance (how your business is run), I believe there is a lack of awareness about how sustainable out-of-home (OOH) is, and importantly how much OOH gives back, with PwC estimating that 40% of every pound spent on OOH goes back into the community and our own estimates putting it closer to 50%.

Of course, other media give back too. TV and press advertising fund independent journalism news, TV programs and high-quality journalism, while Cinema advertising funds filmmaking.

But OOH is in the unique position of being a very public medium in city centers everywhere - yet few people realize that it also funds services for the community. For example, OOH media owners pay for the design, installation and maintenance of a large number of the UK’s bus shelters, fund free Wi-Fi in city centers and provide life-saving defibrillators UK-wide - all without burdening the local taxpayer. That’s on top of providing revenue streams to councils and transport partners, helping to fund local services.

OOH ad telling the public about free wifi in Manchester

OOH represents a fragment of the UK’s 100 million digital screens

The latest figures from Outsmart show that the growth of OOH is now fueled by the rise in digital out-of-home (DOOH) - but what few people realize is that OOH represents a fragment of the UK’s total energy usage, with the UK’s OOH sector accounting for less than 0.04% of the UK’s total energy usage and that as a public one-to many medium, it efficiently reaches an audience of millions with a relatively small number of displays.

At JCDecaux UK all the electricity powering our own poster sites and buildings is green energy, and last year we achieved our zero to landfill goal. We’re not alone - all the major OOH media owners have made huge strides to reduce their impact, and as a member of Ad Net Zero, our own progress has been recognized by global sustainability authorities including CDP, Ecovadis, MSCI, FTSE4Good and Sustainalytics - all well above the global media industry average.

Sustainable media for sustainable brands

A colleague was recently chatting to the marketing director of a luxury brand who, despite being a long-standing and important advertiser across multiple media channels, had no idea that when it comes to OOH, around half of their advertising investment goes back into the community. This client suggested that some brands would pay more to secure space on media where their ad spend does more than deliver against their marketing goals, that it also gives back.

The conversation moved onto the subject of trust and how vital this is for brands seeking to build relationships with today’s sustainability-minded consumers.

Research entitled 'The Moment for Trust’, a partnership between JCDecaux and Clear Channel, revealed that there is a strong, positive correlation between trust and consideration, with OOH the strongest media at delivering both trust in brands’ messaging, and consideration. Or as Justin Gibbons puts it in his book P² + C = 6, “you can’t tell lies in public.”

Kinetic’s ‘Alfresco Life: Making Sustainable Choices’ April 2023 report takes this further, finding that sustainable messages should be delivered in a public and broadcast environment, finding that “brands who make a public commitment to sustainability make their sustainability claims more trustworthy,” with the strongest agreement among people in cities and among younger audiences. While 57% of all adults agreed, this rose to 70% of 18 to 34s and to 72% of households with kids. This makes OOH the ideal channel for brands looking to land their sustainability messaging.

A Nationwide advert on a JCDecaux OOH platform

Leading the charge for making more sustainable media choices, Ruby Raut, femtech pioneer and founder of WUKA, a sustainable period pants brand, recently spoke about the importance of getting WUKA’s brand message out using highly effective, but also sustainable advertising channels speaking on the Digital Changemakers podcast.

Ruby says, “As a brand we would love to be a household name, that’s my goal. Visibility and awareness is one of the things that we are lacking, making people speak about it when there are still taboos in the Asian communities about periods. Even here in the UK, I know thousands of women who don’t go to temple because they are on their period or who miss out on ceremonial weddings. So, it’s a topic of conversation and will give us a lot of brand exposure.”

This summer, WUKA’s sustainability message is going live via DOOH screens in Westfield Stratford City mall and at Lewisham Shopping centre, as part of Ruby’s mission. This data-driven campaign leverages audience insights, creative best practice, and sustainable media planning enabling WUKA to reach their target audience and use their ad spend to give back to the community.

What are the next steps for marketers?

So what are the next steps for marketers? If I had three wishes it would be for the following:

Firstly, for marketers to think about the power of their adspend to give back and to do good and to rebalance their spend towards the channels that do that best.

Secondly, I hope there will be more conversations around channels that can deliver both sustainability and marketing goals.

Thirdly if you want to learn more about the work that JCDecaux UK, and the wider OOH industry, does to support communities, you can read our “Giving Back Story” and view our latest environmental and social projects here.

To learn about how you can get involved, please get in touch.

A defibrillator, as provided by JCDecaux, an OOH platform

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